National Security

Clinton's Security Tour Hijacked By Events In Egypt

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference. Her agenda was originally supposed to include a speech to the conference, the formal start of the U.S./Russia arms control treaty and discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Instead, the crisis in Egypt is dominating the conference. Host Scott Simon gets the latest from NPR's Michele Kelemen, who is traveling with the secretary.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

As the protests continue in Tahrir Square, U.S. officials are working behind the scenes to assist what they call an orderly transition in Egypt, key ally in the Middle East.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's been on the phone with her Egyptian counterpart. Today she's attending a security conference in Germany. It's an annual gathering that usually focuses on European issues, but this weekend the crisis in Egypt is a dominant theme.

NPR's Michele Keleman is traveling with the secretary and joins us from Munich. Michele, thanks for being us.

MICHELE KELEMAN: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And did the secretary bring a message to the group?

KELEMAN: She did. She said that the Middle East, and not just Egypt, is - and this is her quote, "It's being battered by a perfect storm." She said countries in the region have young populations, there are not enough jobs, and these young people are more connected with one another than ever before because of technology.

So she said this generation is rightly demanding that their governments become more open and effective. She said leaders in the regions may be able to hold the tide back for a bit but not for long. And she said that the U.S. and Europe should be encouraging reforms, not for idealistic reasons, but out of strategic necessity.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. And it sounds as if she really tried to bring a regional understanding to the ministers there too.

KELEMAN: She did. You know, I mean, there's a lot happening right now. Jordan's King Abdullah shaking up his country's cabinet, trying to meet the demands of protestors. You have Yemen's president promising that he won't run again, nor will his son. These are things that Clinton has been encouraging.

But she pointed out today as she addressed these officials, parliamentarians, and others, that there are risks in pushing for change. So let's listen to a little bit of what she said.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Secretary of State): Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception and rigged elections to stay in power or to advance an agenda of extremism.

KELEMAN: And, you know, one of the questioners said, you know, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes, Madam Secretary, and she said, thanks for the sympathy basically. You know, there are concerns that it could go the way of Iran, 1979. So there, you know, there are clearly concerns about how all of this could play out, and what it's gonna mean to U.S. and European interests in the Middle East.

SIMON: And any clue, Michele, as to how the U.S. and its European allies see their own ability to help promote changes in Egypt that won't lead to a more dangerous outcome?

KELEMAN: Well, you know, she said that in many ways we're all on the outside looking in. The Egyptian government has started this process to reach out to opposition figures, civil society, and what the U.S. can do is push for the process to be as transparent as possible and as open as possible, at least to groups that renounce violence.

But the secretary also talked to Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel who reminded her that these things take time. Merkel, you know, spoke about her own experiences in Germany after the Berlin wall fell down, and how much east and West Germany had to sort out. And she spoke to the same conference saying that we can offer advice but we can't impose any solutions.

Secretary Clinton also talked her Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, and he told us that the U.S. and Turkey agree on a lot of things about Egypt right now, and Secretary Clinton said the two talked about how Egypt needs certain institutions, and that includes the Army. You know, the U.S. spends a lot of money every year supporting the Egyptian Army, and the U.S. still sees that as force of stability in the country.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Keleman traveling with Secretary of State Clinton. Thanks so much.

KELEMAN: Thank you.

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